Know Your Arabic Music Lyrics!

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Nefabit performing in Spokane Photo by Don Hinton

If you dance to Middle Eastern music, or work for Middle Eastern clubs or clients, it’s important to know at least a sampling of Arabic vocabulary. Here are a couple of starter words that are commonly heard in music to help you identify the type of song, even if you don’t understand every word. Is it a love song, or a song calling for political revolution? A song about dancing and partying, or a song about divorce? Even upbeat pop songs can delve into very serious topics, so do your research! A few of these words double as expressions you might hear from your audience members.

  1. Habibbi  – “My love” a term of endearment. (habibti when referring to a woman)
  2. Beladi – Country, “of the country” 2. A style of folkloric dance from the countryside 3. A rhythm from the countryside, which folkloric dance is performed to.
  3. Yalla –  Literally, “let’s go” 1. an expression of excitement as in “come on!” 2. Hurry up, let’s go now.
  4. Hizzy – “to shake”, refers also to shimmies specifically. Often heard in music for bellydancing to encourage the dancer.
  5. Aiwah – “My eye” an expression used often by spectators to express that their eyes are feasting. In music, this is common in love songs as the singer expresses how she or he feels when looking at the person they desire.

Emotional Transformation Through Bellydance

We all find ourselves on a unique dance path, and we all find ourselves here for different reasons. Personally, I grew up wide-eyed, watching my mom practice for her gigs. I played with her veils and coin belts, twirled and copied her moves. I would try on her costumes to see if they would finally fit. I was also a bunhead, a lover of dance in all forms. My favorite way to amuse myself as a young child was to get out my Nutcracker or Riverdance VHS tape and dance just like them. Of course, I was really just running in circles at first. But from the time I could walk, I was in gymnastics, ballet, swimming, you name it. Dance has always been part of my life, and a huge defining point of who I am.

But for many, bellydance is a passion discovered later in life. I love to ask all of my students why they decided to take a class. Many say they saw a dancer at a party 20 years ago and always wanted to try. Some say they want to exercise doing something more fun than running on a treadmill. Others want a community and sisterhood.

But regardless of the reasons why, almost unanimously, at some point or another bellydance will lead you to a personal awakening.

It’s impossible to say exactly why this is, after all, everyone’s experiences are different. I think the mind and body are one and the same. We harbor so much negative emotion in our bodies; offhanded comments hit us in the gut, every discouraging day makes the shoulder slump a little more, every broken heart gets locked away inside the ribcage.
People who move, whether it be ballet, tai chi, or yoga, seem to be more at peace, and more able to let go of the past. But bellydance, in particular, seems to have an amazing ability to help people through emotional issues as a side effect.

 

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Photo by Austinspace, from Arabesque 2015

I personally think movement allows us to release the pent up emotions, fears, and frustrations. Bellydance moves through such a unique pathway in the body, and the movements are so internalized. To create the movements, dancers must at once be strong and incredibly fluid and relaxed. Tension through the deepest core muscles restricts the motions. Letting go of the control of those muscles, I believe opens a floodgate.

Once we start opening the chest and rolling the shoulders back, confidence can shine through. Working in the hips and pelvic muscles for women is especially emotional. Not only are these muscles pretty neglected through everyday life, but we push down so many feelings, especially those pertaining to sexuality or abuse. Working through the hips can unlock these feelings, and allow us to deal with them. In a way, this may all seem very metaphorical, but I feel that our language is an indication to how our emotions affect our bodies. Expressions like “Push it down,” “lock it away,” “gut feelings,”  or “stabbed in the back” are all physical representations of emotional responses. There is more scientific evidence coming out now pertaining to the effects of stress, emotion and abuse on the body. The connection flows both ways too – the mind affects the body and vice-versa. Scientists found that smiling actually improves mood. “Fake it till you make it” seems to actually work. And I think in dance, standing tall and opening the body has a profound effect on the mind and heart.

Sometimes people hit a wall of emotion they didn’t know was there. As a teacher, I often end up being a counselor as well. On more occasions than I can count, especially in private lessons, I’ve had students tear up about something that happened years ago, or experience a revelation about themselves. Dancers will often work through these issues, and then let go. This is an incredibly powerful transformation and one I’m honored to witness and assist with. Dancers can literally blossom in class; they stand taller, their eyes are brighter. Some go on to find the strength to make hard decisions, let go of negative relationships, or take a risk that leads them to a better path. Some transformations are not as dramatic, but I’m proud to say that I see nearly every person who comes through my studio doors leave feeling more confident, feminine, and empowered.

 

Have you experienced transformaiton through studying dance? How do you use dance to work through hard times in your life? Share with me in the comments!

7 Tips For Memorizing Choreography

Ever step onstage and suddenly forget what you’re supposed to do? Whether you are memorizing your own solo choreography or performing in a company, these tips will increase your choreography recall, and ensure that you’re always prepared to perform your best.

Practice the choreography without music or with different music
Count through the whole choreography without the music. While you want to move with and cue off the music, you can increase your recall of each movement sequence by forcing yourself to memorize the movements on their own. I have performed to music that has been distorted, played too slow, too fast, or only through one channel. In those moments, I am grateful that I can count out the piece. Practicing the choreography to different music is also very challenging, and it’s helpful to think of the choreography even with different sounds.

Rehearse in your mind
Studies of the brain have shown that imagining something activates the same areas of the brain as actually doing it. Practicing the choreography in your mind can allow you to think of not just what you’re doing, but how you’re doing it. Imagine doing it perfectly – stretching a little farther, holding the balance a little longer – and your body will be better able to do it in reality.

Just listen
Another technique is to play your music and listen passively, while you drive or do the dishes, for example. As you learn the choreography, your brain will picture it automatically as you listen. You don’t have to focus, just let your mind process in the background. Memorize the music by heart, and you’ll never miss a beat.

Music roulette
Sometimes a cord gets bumped,  a CD skips, or the sound guy will forget to turn the music up after pushing play. Fast forward the song to a random spot and see how quickly you can pick up where you are. This is an excellent technique because it trains your brain to remember the point of the choreography based on the music. Use a program like Amazing Slow Downer to change the tempo or pitch of the music for some extra challenge, and to be ready for any musical mishaps.

Take notes
Writing something down increases your recollection ability, and it also provides a reference for later. Even if you are provided with notes, taking your own will often be more helpful.

Record Yourself
Video is the most amazing learning tool. You may watch yourself in the mirror but your brain can only process so much information at once. Watch a recording and you’ll notice many details you can improve. If you’re working in a group, record the choreographer and emulate his or her method. Rcord the whole group to help remember line changes and formations. And most of all, record yourself practing multiple times. You’ll see improvement, and you will subconsiously absorb the choreography even more as you watch.

Perfect Practice makes perfect
There are advantages to marking choreography (hitting major points without dancing full out). Your brain will make connections and you can work on memorizing the framework and transitions of the piece. But once you get more adept, you want to dominate your rehearsal time with Perfect Practice. Do everything as you would on stage. Smile, extend, make eye contact with imaginary people. Practicing in costume is also imperative, because it will change the way everything feels.
Don’t practice until you get it right . . . Practice until you can’t get it wrong.

The biggest key is to practice, practice, forblogpractice; until you hate your music, until the choreography bores you, until it feels frustratingly easy. You don’t just know it, you don’t have to think about it. When you are performing, you can’t think about your choreography. You have to think about poise, projection, expression, and all of the mishaps that can happen in a live performance. Try these techniques and let me know in the comments what works for you! How do you memorize chorography? What kinds of mishaps have occured during your performances, and how did you learn and adapt to deal with those situations in the future?

What to Expect When Hiring Entertainment

So you have a big day coming up – congratulations! Whether you are getting married, organizing a product launch, or surprising your best friend with a birthday party, certain events need something special to make the night memorable. That’s where live entertainment comes in.

Live entertainment makes memories
The first thing you can expect is for live entertainment to make your event memorable. Never in my 20 years as a professional entertainer have I ever heard of someone who regretted investing in a performer. But I have heard plenty of people lament about boring parties where everyone stood around eyeballing the punch bowl.

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Nefabit and Delilah at a 50th Birthday party in Pearl City, Hawaii

Performers break the ice and bring people together
Let’s face it. Not everyone is a born social butterfly. The last thing you want on your special day is for people to stand around looking bored. Balloons are pretty, and cakes are tasty, but they won’t get people talking. Entertainment will give people something to talk to one another about, something to take pictures of, and a reason to let loose and enjoy themselves. Remember, the number one goal of a party is to celebrate.

So you want to hire entertainment – now what?
The first step is to figure out what you want. What type of party is it? Who or what it for? What’s the theme? If you don’t have a theme – figure it out, then come back.
If you’re throwing a party for your six-year-old daughter, why not hire a princess to  come in and take pictures and dance during the tea party? Or perhaps pony rides (my mom did this for one of my birthday parties, good job mom!). Moroccan themed sweet 16? How about some beautiful bellydancers to dance and teach everyone a move or two? 20’s themed gala? Get yourself a big band and some charleston dancers.
Now that you have an idea, now it’s time to start shopping.

What to look for in a performer
When hiring a performer, I recommend that you look first and foremost for professionalism and personality. Many performers are extremely talented, but don’t have a lick of business sense. Look for someone who has professional cards, a website, returns your call promptly, and has good speaking skills. Likewise, there are many performers that are highly skilled, but are seriously lacking in charisma, likeability and social skills. This is especially important if you want someone to mingle with your audience, dancing through tables, making balloon animals, what have you. You need the entertainer to wake up the wallflowers, not be one herself.
Once you’ve found a performer that makes a good impression, do look at pictures and video to see if they are actually good at what they do. Someone who gets a lot of work likely does for a reason.

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Nefabit (far right) after performing and teaching at a birthday in Liberty Lake, Washington

Take a hard look at your budget
I’m going to tell you right now, performers are not cheap. Neither are floral arrangements, DJ’s, catering, venue rental, photography, etc. If you want something elaborate – a wedding, corporate holiday party or opening night, you had probably better pony up a decent budget.
Professional performers will charge in the area of 200-300 or more, depending on your event. And they deserve every penny. Between phone calls, contracts, research, preparing sets, music editing, rehearsal, packing, hair/makeup, driving, wait time, performing, mingling, photo ops, and driving home, a professional will have invested 8 hours or more in your special day. 300.00 sounds like a lot of money, but for 8 hours of work that works out to 37.50 per hour. A good wage, certainly. Performers spend thousands of hours honing their craft and if they are good enough to be able to make it a career, you can bet your beans it will be worth the money.
Keep in mind that things like travel, wait time, and equipment, may incur additional fees.

Plan Ahead
Once you have found an awesome professional to dazzle your guests,  cross your fingers and hope he or she is available. The best performers are in high demand – the farther out you book your show, the better your odds are. I can very rarely squeeze in a show booked within two weeks. For example, as I write this article, I’m booked out Wednesday- Saturday this week and Thursday-Saturday next week. Keep in mind that wedding seasonholidays and prime time hours (6:00-10:00pm) are hardest to book. If you must book last minute, be prepared to be flexible. You’ll have the best luck if you book at least 4-6 weeks out, longer for anything around a major holiday, especially Halloween, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Details, Details
Make sure you go over all details with your performer. Try to know as much about your event and crowd as possible. And be prepared to answer a lot of questions. Here are some questions I ask my clients:
Is there a stage or dance floor?
Am I dancing on the stage or among the crowd, or both?
Are guests standing and moving around, or seated? Dinner or theater style?
How many guests are you expecting? What is the age range?
Is there a DJ? Do you have a sound system, or do I need to bring one (for an upcharge)?
Is this a surprise? Is there a guest of honor? Will there be an announcement?
Is there a private, locking room I can change and stow my belongings in? How far is it from the performance area?
That’s just an example. A lot of my requirements are listed in my contract. Please be willing to discuss the event in detail with your performer. Doing so will ensure that he or she knows what to expect and can prepare accordingly, ensuring that your event is as perfect as possible.

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Nefabit entertaining guests at a Halloween Party in Worley, Idaho

The big day
It’s your special day! how exciting! No doubt you are going crazy with details, racing around like a chicken with its head cut off. I highly recommend that you have an assistant who knows the entertainer is coming, where the dressing room is, etc. This person can meet the performer and show him or her to the dressing room, run the music to the DJ, etc. Another option is to have someone continue running things front of house while you do this yourself. Be prepared to pay before the performer begins (or better yet in advance of the show). Once everything is ready, sit back and enjoy the show! Don’t forget to take pictures of how much fun your guests are having, and hopefully take a moment to enjoy your party as well.

Have you ever hired entertainment? How did it go? Tell me about your experience.

Interested in hiring dancers? Click here. If you’re looking for something else, let me know, I’m happy to make referrals to dozens of talented performers in the area.

 

American Bellydance in Today’s Political Climate

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the state of our world right now. The heavier my heart gets
from all of the wrong and injustice in the world, the more important dancing becomes to me. I am so glad that in a time that is dark in many ways, I can bring fun, happiness and excitement to people, even for a moment. And through appreciation of art and beauty of any kind, people can set aside their differences and forget their cares. Live performance is more important than ever in times of war, hardship and unrest.

I think many bellydancers, in particular, are struggling with their inspiration to dance. In a time of such unrest in the Middle East, with political and religious revivals all over the world, being an American bellydancer puts us in a unique position. Being a bellydancer is not a reflection on any person’s political or religious beliefs, however, it is my strong opinion that we have a responsibility to study and understand the culture that our art originates from.

Nefabit Professional Bellydancer Spokane by John Austin

Photo by John Austin

In Egypt, dancers are being arrested for “inciting debauchery” and “disrupting morality” as the religious revival rises in the Middle East. Here on our own shores, some political candidates are condemning everything Middle Eastern, calling to deport all Muslims and bar entry to Syrians – even putting forth religious tests for refugees. And across our country and the world, religious extremists of various faiths are killing innocent people out of hatred.
Because of these and many other factors, some dancers are feeling disheartened. I must admit that I have had my own misgivings from time to time. Sometimes I wonder, “why would anyone want to see me bellydance right now?” On a few occasions, as I put my makeup on and packed my gig bag, it felt insignificant – frivolous even – when there is so much going on in the world. With paranoia mounting on all sides, I have felt less self-assured, and less confident of my safety and acceptance.

But to my fellow bellydancers and entertainers of all kinds, I remind you that being a performer now is more important than ever. Right now, people need hope, love, and joy. Live entertainers have an amazing ability to spread happiness, soothe unrest, and bring people together.
There is nothing that can replace that fleeting, intimate moment when a dancer and an audience member make eye contact and share an indefinable experience. Or witnessing the dancer moving in complete harmony with the music, and experiencing tarab, a musical ecstasy. Smiling at a stranger (not just smiling into the space above their heads) can be enough to melt a stressful day.
Bellydancers, in particular, have a unique opportunity to remind people of the good that comes from the Middle East. Modern chemistry, astronomy, and mathematics have roots in Arabia. There is so much artistic lineage in the Middle East, in every discipline from language, architecture, textiles, music, and of course, bellydance and various folkloric dances.

I think that being a bellydancer is relevant. So if you are feeling like you’re at a loss for inspiration or the news is making you feel downhearted, just think: if you can affect just one person today, you’ve done your job. Maybe someone will walk away from your show feeling less lonely. Maybe someone who has never seen bellydance will find a new appreciation for Middle Eastern culture. Maybe someone will work up the courage to take a bellydance class. If we focus on the positive, no matter how bleak the world gets, we will continue to make a beneficial impact on people’s lives, and that’s really what performing is all about.

 

The One Thing You Should Eat Before Every Show

Dancers and performers need to take special considerations in their diet in order to provide enough energy and nutrition to keep up with a demanding lifestyle. There are many foods that can affect your stamina, muscle strength, mental clarity, and even your mood.
There is one thing I make a point to eat before every show – a banana.

Stage fright can be crippling and everyone experiences it to some degree from time to time. Our bodies actually respond to performing as a fight-or-flight situation, and this spurs an increase or sudden spike of adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline can seem to slow down time, give a boost in muscle function, heighten the senses and block out pain.

The effects of adrenaline can cause stage fright, with varying symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, nausea, anxiety, inability to concentrate, and the feeling of butterflies in the stomach.

Enter, the humble banana. Bananas are high in natural beta blockers, which work by blocking adrenaline receptors. Doctors prescribe beta blockers to reduce heart rate and blood pressure or treat anxiety. In the smaller amounts found in foods like bananas, it seems to take the edge off, allowing the benefits of adrenaline surges to outweigh the negative side effects.

Bananas are also high in potassium and magnesium, which are essential for muscle function, and tryptophan, which has a further calming effect.

Other foods high in beta blockers include potatoes, pomegranates, turkey, oatmeal and broccoli, as well as the herbs chamomile and valerian. I personally love bananas because they are portable and easy to eat quickly. I tend to eat one at breakfast, and another about an hour before performing.

What is your favorite pre-show snack? What do you do to cope with stage fright and anxiety?